Category: Collection Highlight

New Acquisition: Narrating the Black Experience: Cane

Photo of binding of Cane by Jean Toomer, illustrated by Martin Puryear. Recent acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives.

Jean Toomer was a masterful historiographer and writer of black history and culture.  His seminal publication, Cane, embodied his devotion to narrating the black experience and to applying a critical eye to past history of oppression and prejudice in order to preserve and crystallize history as it was, before its true reality is erased by the present.  Essayist and contributor (afterword) to Cane, Prof. Leon Litwack (UC Berkeley) comments on Jean Toomer, Cane, and twentieth century racism, writing,

“In coming to grips with the present, Jean Toomer insisted on confronting the past and exploring the heritage of slavery to its very roots in ways that would avoid both condescension and romanticization.  Looking about him, he sensed an agrarian folk culture deeply rooted in the slave experience.  There was still time, he thought, to explore that culture, indeed the very soul and spirit of the black South, before urbanization and industrialization rendered it unrecognizable.”

The novel Cane received high praise and acclaim following its publishing, however such acclaim was not reflected in the number of books sold.  Jean Toomer himself laid latent for some time after its publishing and only resurfaced years later as a burgeoning interest in black history and culture in the 1960’s emerged.  Cane remains a work of unique and paramount stature and is elusive in its form, for it is many things – a novel, work of poetry, a drama, an illustrated work.  It takes place in rural Georgia, urban Washington, D.C., among other places.  The beauty of the work lies in its multifaceted nature, speaking to the reader in a variety of forms.

Photo of page from Cane by Jean Toomer, illustrated by Martin Puryear, containing photographs of author, Jean Toomer, and illustrator, Martin Puryear. Recent acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives.

Cane is augmented by the work of Martin Puryear, a prominent American sculptor.  Martin Puryear was enamored by Cane, read during his initial years residing in the South and teaching at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  Puryear’s contributions to Cane include woodcuts as accompanying illustrations; there are seven larger images portraying women featured within the novel, and three smaller images resembling the enigmatic arcs Jean Toomer utilized to divide sections within the work in the first edition.

While this remains Jean Toomer’s most conspicuous work, it is important to note Toomer’s other literary endeavors, including autobiographies and other fiction, drama, poetry, and essays.  He published one other work, Essentials, in 1931, a collection of aphorisms.  The breadth of black history and culture portrayed in Cane begs examination and continued study today.  The complementary pairing of Jean Toomer’s illuminative text and Martin Puryear’s woodcut illustrations creates for the reader an experience incomparable and truly distinctive.

Photo of illustration from Cane by Jean Toomer, illustrated by Martin Puryear. Recent acquisition of University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives.

The book was produced by The Arion Press, considered the nation’s leading publisher of fine-press books. Founded in San Francisco in 1974 by Andrew Hoyem, it has published 116 limited-edition books, most printed by letterpress, often illustrated with original prints by notable artists. This edition of Cane was limited to 400 numbered copies (ours is No. 343) with each copy signed by the artist, Martin Puryear. The text type is Times New Roman Bold with long descenders, composed in Monotype; the display type is Lucian Bold, composed by hand. The text paper is Biblio, mould-made in Germany; the print paper is Kitakata, handmade in Japan. The text was printed on a Miller TW cylinder press; the woodblocks were printed on a Vandercook Universal III proofing press. The book was designed by Andrew Hoyem and is the 59th publication of the Arion Press.

Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist

New Acquisition: African Americans in the Military

Photo of Partially Printed Pay Document to Black Connecticut Revolutionary War Soldier, Pomp Cyrus, 1782, acquired by University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Though colonists did not officially condone the enlistment of African Americans in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, the service of African Americans was historically pervasive throughout the War, despite multiple orders on behalf of General George Washington alluding to the illegality of the enlistment of African Americans – slaves or freemen – to work concertedly alongside colonists in the Continental Army (Butler, 1992).  Despite the supposed restrictions against African Americans participating in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, African Americans from all thirteen colonies – approximately 5000 individuals – fought on behalf of the patriot colonists.  Many African American soldiers remained slaves throughout the Revolutionary War, a factor that the British monopolized upon, recruiting slaves to fight against the patriot colonies in promise of freedom (Butler, 1992).  During the War, persistent need in 1776 and 1777 prompted the official call for African Americans to enlist in the Continental Army in an attempt to replenish resources and garner strength for continued battle.  The conclusion of the Revolutionary War resulted in an increase in manumission of slaves and Continental soldiers who were slaves (National Park Service, 2008).

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives acquired the Revolutionary War-era document, a “Partially Printed Pay Document to Black Connecticut Revolutionary War Soldier, Pomp Cyrus, 1782,” an official pay document signed by Connecticut State Treasurer, John Lawrence.  The recipient of the pay document, Pomp Cyrus of Milford, was a constituent of a group of slaves and freemen from Connecticut, numbering around 300, who served as Continental soldiers in the Revolutionary War.  Pomp Cyrus also served in the historic all-black Second Company of the Fourth Connecticut Regiment led by Captain David Humphreys (Lanning, 2000).  The Second Company grew as an extension from the Fourth Connecticut Regiment, carrying with it fifty-two former slaves and freemen, and was active between the years of 1780 and 1782 (Lanning, 2000).

Photo of Application for Discharged Soldier, Colored, For Pay and Bounty, 1866, acquired by University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Despite sporadic orders condoning the enlistment of African Americans during the Revolutionary War, the government continued its overall enactment of exclusionary practices that prohibited legal, sustained service in the military by African Americans.  African Americans became trapped in a revolving system referred to as “recruit-retain-and-reject,” where African American soldiers were used in dire times of wartime need and later disregarded once needs were fulfilled (Butler, 1992).  One of the initial breaking points of this “recruit-retain-and-reject” pattern of operation was the Emancipation Proclamation, responsible for allowing the enlistment of African Americans in the military during the American Civil War.  However, it is not until the Korean War that more transformative change occurs (Butler, 1992).

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives acquired the following document from the Civil War-era, “Application for a Discharged Soldier, Colored, For Pay and Bounty, 1866.”  The document is an application for compensational pay for time served in the military by an African American soldier prior to discharge, as well as for additional compensation under the “act of Congress of June 15, 1866,” which the document states provides payment of $13 in place of the previously awarded $7, “as allowed by law.”  The deponent of the application was required to attest that “[he] swears that he has never bartered, sold, assigned, transferred, exchanged, loaned, or given away either his discharge papers, or any interest in any bounty whatever…”

These recent acquisitions and the history of African Americans in the military beg conversation and examination.  Constant, critical thought and action are cornerstone.

Special Collections and University Archives serves as a historical repository of materials, some of which may be considered prejudiced, stereotyped or offensive. Historical data is an important resource in the study of contemporary and past cultures. As such, we take our responsibilities in preserving and cataloging such material seriously and provide access for the purpose of scholarly research and study.


Butler, J. (1992). Affirmative action in the military. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 523, 196-206. DOI: 10.2307/1047591

Lanning, M. L. (2000). African Americans in the Revolutionary War. Citadel Press Books.

National Park Service. (2008, December 4). Stories from the Revolution: African Americans in the Revolutionary period.  National Park Service.

Written by Alexandra Mueller (Special Projects Archivist)

New Acquisition: Music and Cultural Posters of the Portland Night Scene

Photo of posters from the Music and Cultural Posters of the Portland Night Scene acquired by University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Portland, Oregon, boasts a rich and expansive music and cultural scene, home to a myriad of quirky, trendy, and historic music and social venues, and musicians and musical groups.  University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives has recently acquired the Musical and Cultural Posters of the Portland Night Scene.  A collection of over 1,700 individual posters compiled by Glenn LaFontaine, gathered over a fifteen-year period from the late 1980’s to early 2000’s, exposes an aspect of Portland so inherent to its identity, drawing from familiar and fringe musicians unique and diverse, and gathering animated individuals under social causes and common interests.

The bulk of the posters are “gig” posters and pertain to punk, heavy metal, and Black musicians, whose music ranged from jazz to reggae to African-influenced.  Black musician “gig” posters feature Masta-Ace – The Chosen, Fiesta Dancehall Reggae, Cannon/Lion of Judah Band, Mikey Dread and the Fully Fullwood Band, Pablo Moses, African Kings, and Obo Addy.

Portland’s cultural scene comes alive in posters oriented to widely varied causes and interests, including LGBTQ groups, social activism, protests, women’s events, sex workers, dance performances, and varied social and cultural groups.  Events of significant history and following in Portland, such as Take Back the Night, International Women’s Day, Night of Gay Porn, Dos Lesbos, Swamp Mama, Lesbian Art Movement Show, Women’s March for Peace, Sex Worker’s Ball, Dyke March, Hypnotica, Futurism Extravaganza, Sweaty Nipples, and King Black Acid/Summer Solstice, are preserved and captured.

Night scene venues of obsolescence and continued notoriety in Portland are memorialized.  Emblazoned in ink are Satyricon, Bitter End Pub, Jasmine Tree, The Tonic, Berrati’s Pan, Crystal Ballroom, Ash Street Saloon, Paris Theatre, St. John’s Pub, Medicine Hat Gallery, Roselane Theater & Grill, Pine Street Theatre, The Otton, Mt. Tabor Pub, Cobalt Lounge, and more.

Collector Glenn Fontaine holds personal interest in the artistic and cultural value of the vast collection of posters.  A graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, Fontaine is a gifted artist of diverse media that has been notably featured in museums and exhibits.  His gravitation towards the imagery of the posters initiated his collecting, tearing sheets from telephone poles and bulletin boards, a pattern of collecting that became a fifteen-year journey resultant in an abundant compilation of posters that speak the culture of Portland.

Photo of posters from the Music and Cultural Posters of the Portland Night Scene acquired by University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives

Written by Alexandra Mueller (Special Projects Archivist)

New Acquisitions: Taller de Gráfica Popular

Special Collections and University Archives has recently acquired two works published by the Taller de Gráfica Popular, an artist’s print collective founded in 1937 in Mexico that produces art for political and revolutionary social causes, including anti-militarism, organized labor, and anti-fascism

Taller de Gráfica Popular (Spanish: “People’s Graphic Workshop”) was established by the artists Leopoldo Méndez, Pablo O’Higgins, and Luis Arenal after the dissolution of Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (LEAR, Revolutionary Writers’ and Artists’ League), a group of artists who supported the Mexican Revolution. TGP’s print shop specialized in linoleum and woodblock printing, often working collaboratively among members and international artists.

These works complement the collection objective of building on strengths in political activism and counter-culture. Much of the artwork also touches on cross-border and borderland issues between the United States and Mexico.

El Taller de Gráfica Popular: Doce años de obra artística colectiva (Mexico City, 1949)

A catalog of works produced by TGP between 1937-1949

The catalog “The Workshop for Popular Graphic Art: A Record of Twelve Years of Collective Work” was published in Mexico City in 1949 by La Estampa Mexicana, the TGP’s imprint for the sale of political posters, prints, song lyrics, and poetry. The catalog is bound in a spiral-bound album, and contains black and white illustrations with text in Spanish and English. The catalog also contains five original wood engravings signed in pencil by the artists Alfredo Zalce, Alberto Beltrán, G. Fernandez Ledesma, Francisco Mora and Carlos Merida.

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Isaac Newton’s Work on Calculus – De analysi (1711)

This is the first of a series of blog posts highlighting notable books from SCUA’s rare book collection brought to light during the preparation for an ongoing retrospective cataloging project, where card catalog records are converted to computerized records for materials held before computer cataloging began. The title described below was discovered in a sub-basement storage location being used as a temporary holding area. It is of interest to note that the item has a check-out sleeve pasted into the back cover indicating that it was at one time in the past part of the library’s circulating collection.

Special Collections and University Archives holds a copy of Isaac Newton’s Analysis per Quantitatum Series, Fluxiones, ac Differentias: cum Enumeratione Linearum Tertii Ordinis (London: Pearson, 1711), the first edition of the third of Newton’s major works on physics and mathematics, following Principia (1687) and Opticks (1704).

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